"Since I was kid, Saturdays in my house have been accompanied by bluegrass in the morning and the Grateful Dead in the afternoon, courtesy of KBOO, one of Portland's great community radio stations.
In a city that makes the New York Times' travel section every two months for its food and bike scenes, it's comforting to me as an old-school Portlander that this sort of "uncool" programming still dominates KBOO on Saturdays. Of course, I like both bluegrass and Dead music—but what I especially value is the feeling of connectedness I get from listening to our local stations, which have programs dedicated to just about every kind of music and talk.
April is Public Radio Music Month, when musicians and music fans shine a light on the role that non-commercial stations play in our nation’s musical life. I have been lucky enough to eke out a career in this brutal business of music, thanks in no small part to the inspiration and opportunity, both personal and professional, public radio stations have provided along the way.
Before I ever imagined becoming a "real" musician, I would squeeze in NPR news on OPB in the morning while eating corn flakes and reading the New York Times. Then I'd bomb down the hill on my dad's 10-speed Peugeot to Lincoln High School Jazz Band, which started at 7:10. I'd listen to KMHD in the afternoons, Portland's only jazz station, writing down music I liked so I could check it out at the library. And KBOO clued me in to local music happenings. I was 15.
Eventually, music eclipsed all other pursuits for me. It became the primary way I wanted to contribute to my community and to Portland, the city that originally fostered my love of music and appreciation of a civic minded approach to living.
Later—after I abandoned any backup plans and started pursuing my dream of being a rock musician—my band the Decemberists was given opportunities to perform at public radio outlets KEXP in Seattle, KUT in Austin and KCRW in Santa Monica. As we grew from a quirky Portland group to a successful rock band with employees and tour buses, public radio helped us reach people and find a niche.
Our nation's community radio stations play a crucial role in connecting fans and bands, especially for music outside the mainstream.
To get a sense of just how important public radio stations are to musicians of all genres and statures, take a look at who signed a recent “love note to public radio,” thanking local stations for taking chances in their programming. Portlanders Pink Martini, Rebecca Gates and Scott McAughey (R.E.M., the Minus Five) signed it, as did my bands the Decemberists and Black Prairie. An amazing variety of national bands have as well, from Ozomatli to Raphael Saadiq. The list goes on and on. (See for yourself here.)
So, OPB, KBOO, KMHD, and so many other stations around the country—thanks. Thanks for being a place to discover music and ideas. Thanks for emphasizing the important role music plays in our lives. Thanks from me the listener and me the musician."